Pakistani Ex-Ambassador On Unrest

This week, militants have bombed targets in Pakistani cities. On Wednesday, a bomb attack in the city of Lahore killed 24 people. A day later, militants struck again in the country's northwest. Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., offers her insight.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We've been reporting for some time now about heavy fighting in Pakistan as the military tries to wipe out the Taliban in the Swat Valley. Violence has also hit hard this week in some of Pakistan's major cities. There were three deadly bombings yesterday in Peshawar in the northwest. On Wednesday, militants killed as many as 30 people in an assault with bombs and guns in the eastern city of Lahore. And today, the U.N. warned its staff in the capital, Islamabad, to stay home out of security concerns.

We called Maleeha Lodhi in Islamabad for some perspective. She's a former Pakistani ambassador to both the U.S. and the U.K. She says the attacks this week by militants were to be expected.

Dr. MALEEHA LODHI (Former Pakistani Ambassador to U.S. and U.K.): The ferocity of the operation itself in Swat has meant that the leaders of the organization of the Pakistani Taliban, they have actually claimed responsibility for the attack in Lahore, and they're the ones who are threatening of more reprisals. The aim seems to be to try to drain public support away from the military operation. The aim also appears to be to relieve the pressure that clearly the militants are feeling in Swat, because the operation is proceeding as effectively as it can in the circumstances. So, this was to be expected.

BLOCK: And will you expect to see more attacks like these in Pakistan cities?

Dr. LODHI: I think the security agencies and the authorities seem to be bracing themselves for a wave, which will continue. At the same time, the political leadership will have to step up to the plate and make sure that they steal themselves. And they also steal public opinion so that there is a higher public threshold to withstand this, as the operation continues in Swat.

Because I think most Pakistanis have concluded that unless the Swat operation is taken to its logical conclusion, all the efforts that have been made in the last few weeks would be in vain. After all, the human cost is 2.5 million people being displaced. So, therefore, I think the operation simply has to succeed.

BLOCK: And when you say it has to come to its logical conclusion, are you talking about a military extinction of the Taliban in the Swat Valley?

Dr. LODHI: I think what the military has aimed at is the disabling of the top leadership. Because, remember, that the army has been in this area before -twice before it's tried to carry it and twice the Taliban militants have simply come back to fill a vacuum.

BLOCK: Well, that is a big question, isn't it, of what would fill that vacuum. And if you're talking about winning over hearts and minds, how the Pakistani government would do that.

Dr. LODHI: I think for some time the army will probably have to stay in the valley, in those mountains. They will have to be there to bolster the police for some time, so that the people, when they're repatriated back to their homes, have a sense of security. Because, after all, the military gains can be lost if the hearts and minds of the people who were displaced and have to go back, are not one. And winning those hearts and minds means providing them with a security to return, to be able to rebuild their lives.

So, there's a huge task ahead. And I think we'll need a lot of leadership from both the political and the military leadership to really make sure that there is no vacuum in Swat, once the military is able to clear the area. To hold and to build are going to be the key point of what the political leadership will have to do.

NORRIS: Ambassador Lodhi, thank you very much for talking with us.

Dr. LODHI: Thank you.

NORRIS: Maleeha Lodhi is the former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. and the U.K. She spoke with us from her home in Islamabad.

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